Advertisement

GOP pressures Biden to release evidence against Maduro ally pardoned as part of prisoner swap

MIAMI (AP) — A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday urged the Justice Department to release its investigative file on a key fixer for Venezuela's socialist government pardoned by President Joe Biden ahead of trial on money laundering charges.

Alex Saab, 52, was released from federal prison in Miami last month as part of a prisoner swap and was immediately welcomed to Venezuela as a hero by President Nicolás Maduro. Once freed, Saab launched into a tirade against the U.S., claiming he had been tortured while awaiting extradition from Cape Verde in a bid to make him turn on Maduro.

“History should remember him as a predator of vulnerable people,” says a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Merrick Garland by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was also signed by Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the Republican vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Saab's release in a swap for 10 American prisoners and a fugitive Pentagon contractor held in Venezuela was seen as a major concession to Maduro as the Biden administration seeks to improve relations with the OPEC nation and pave the way for freer elections.

The deal came on the heels of the White House's decision to roll back sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Venezuela after Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in what the U.S. and other nations condemned as a sham vote.

The senators' two-page letter cites U.S. government reports identifying Saab as Maduro's “middle man" to Iran who helped the two oil exporting nations evade U.S. sanctions and also laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for corrupt officials through a global network of shell companies.

The senators set a Feb. 7 deadline for Garland to release the requested files.

“The United States government closed the case against Alex Saab when President Biden pardoned his crimes. There is no basis for withholding the evidence against Saab from the American public," their letter says.

The Justice Department confirmed that it had received the letter but declined to comment further.

Any release of Justice Department records could shine a light on what the senators referred to as Saab's “confessions" — a reference to his secret meetings with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the years before his indictment.

In a closed door court hearing in 2022, Saab’s lawyers said the Colombian-born businessman for years helped the DEA untangle corruption in Maduro’s inner circle. As part of that cooperation, he forfeited more than $12 million in illegal proceeds from dirty business dealings.

Saab, however, has denied ever betraying Maduro.

The value of the information he shared is unknown, and some have suggested it may have all been a Maduro-authorized ruse to collect intelligence on the U.S. law enforcement activities in Venezuela.

Whatever the case, Saab skipped out on a May 2019 surrender date and shortly afterward was charged by federal prosecutors in Miami with a bribery scheme in which he allegedly siphoned off $350 million through a state contract to build affordable housing.

He was arrested in 2020 during a fuel stop in the African nation of Cape Verde while flying to Iran to negotiate an energy deal. He was then extradited to the U.S.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.